Lawmakers never want to cut higher education, but when it’s a choice between social services and higher education, colleges lose every time because the vast majority of voting Americans are the recipients of Social Security, Medicare, and other social services that could be cut. In order to keep their support, lawmakers cut funding from college students.
But some students from the University of Washington began questioning whether the issue is really that black-and-white; social security cuts, or higher education cuts. These students have come up with ideas of ways to raise money for higher education without cutting funding from social services, and without raising state taxes.
The platform has three components: giving community and technical colleges the power to use ballot levies in order to raise money; partially eliminating a sales tax and business-and-occupation break given to high-tech firms to pay for research and development companies; and giving colleges and universities the ability to invest their operating funding into something that will yield a higher rate of return.
“We’re students,” said Andrew Lewis, a UW student and the head of government relations for the Associated Students of UW (ASUW). “We do our homework.”
The students had definitely done their research. Governor Gregoire has proposed cutting $166 million from higher education to close the $2 billion revenue shortfall, but according to Lewis, just adjusting the tax breaks would provide over $80 million in revenue, almost making up half of the proposed funding cut.
Similarly, the students want to change the terms of such tax exemptions so that the high-tech firms affected by the break can’t take advantage of the exemption if they have more than 250 employees.
Lewis didn’t have an example of a company, but according to the Department of Revenue, one that fits the description is Microsoft, which enjoys over $104 million in tax breaks.
Allowing community and technical colleges to raise money through ballot levies would help to take them out of the current state of financial emergency that community and technical collges have been in since September.
According to Lewis it would also, indirectly help four-year institutions because more students would be able to attend after completing the first two years of their degree at a less expensive school.
In a more direct form of assistance toward universities and four-year colleges, investment could substantially help. According to Randy Hodgins, vice president of external relations at the UW, allowing the universities to invest their operating money would yield a return of $10 million to $20 million a year.
Alejandro Peña, a UW student working on this plan, said that what they were trying to communicate to lawmakers was “You don’t really need to cut. You just need to say yes to new and creative revenue solutions.”
This issue is being lobbied at the legislature in Olympia by administration from the UW, according to Hodgins.
The state constitution would have to be amended before this was possible, but lobbyists are pushing for this to happen. They aren’t currently taking a stand on the tax breaks or community college ballot levies.
Hodgins is proud of the students for stepping up like this; “The more ideas, the better,” he said. “They have an important voice in this, and it needs to be heard.”
Originally published 11/15/11.